Thursday, 24 January 2019
Climate Action: Statements
I thank the Minister for his presentation. As everyone in this House knows, there is no silver bullet for this. We talk about wind energy, electrification of vehicles, biomass, solar photovoltaics, PV, and retrofitting of insulation. It is quite an endless list. The important point to recognise is the significance of the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It is a key component. It is key to ensure that any policy adopted is acted on and that we measure and evaluate it. It is key that any policy we recognise is not delivering can be amended and made fit for purpose. There is a risk in this area and in Government policy that we look for quick wins, things that will garner support and be regarded favourably in the court of public opinion. That is a dangerous situation. We need a full understanding of the long-term impact on all areas of business and society.I have worked a lifetime in the agrifood industry and I have great concerns for it, not because I question the value or integrity of the industry but the way it is both presented and presents itself. We need to look at best practice in agriculture and all other sectors, and we look to other member states to see what they have done, what has worked and what has not worked.
However, we must acknowledge that Ireland is not the same as other parts of the world. I refer to the current debate on the impact on the carbon footprint of our agriculture sector, especially in terms of the production of red meat. The reality is that when we consider some of those discussions, Ireland is uniquely positioned. It has a temperate climate with a plentiful supply of water in north-western Europe. To compare beef production on the island of Ireland with beef production in California or New South Wales is unfair. The reality is that per litre of water it is not the same limitation as other regions in the world. We need to be cognisant of that. I have concerns that some of the calculations are slightly questionable when we try to globalise and take averages from across the world. That is unfair. Ireland is uniquely positioned to produce good quality, sustainable food.
If we look at the reality, the Minister referenced leadership and authority, social media and public opinion. That is a very important point because there is a requirement and a necessity to show strong leadership but, as I have mentioned, that is not always popular.
The Minister referenced a whole-of-Government plan that will take on the national mitigation plan, and he specifically mentioned the policy tools to do that. Those policy tools will be the foundations for driving behavioural change across society. I am a big supporter of evidence-based policy because we must be able to underpin our policy with science and fact. When we are questioned, challenged or criticised for not delivering on policy, at least we can refer to the information we had at the time and the information upon which the decisions were based.
I have a genuine concern for cross-departmental engagement, which the Minister referenced also. We need to avoid at all costs a silo mentality where each Department does an element of navel gazing and looks at the problems within that Department and not how they can be addressed by working with other Departments and deliver a greater good when they work together.
It is imperative also that we have a managed strategic approach in this area. We have a legacy of ad hocinitiatives in isolation without looking at the complete picture. This must be about taking a holistic approach. It must be cross-sectoral and, importantly, it must examine the long-term impact, benefits and disadvantages because climate change and the environment is a long-term issue. Climate change and the environment must now be embedded in all Departments as the starting point and not be an additional component at the end of the discussion.
Climate change and the environment are complex but also simple. It is about all society doing better and doing their best. It is not that complicated. Every individual in this House and in the Dáil will have their own opinions on the best strategy for environment and climate change but it is about collective responsibility. Even though political representatives are lobbied heavily by different components of society, organisations and individuals, this must be about collective responsibility and how we drive initiatives faster.
Ireland should not continually beat itself up about the past. We have to learn from the past and make sure we do not repeat the mistakes we made in the past, but we must learn from our mistakes. We must remember there are benefits in this because it is the second mouse to the trap that gets the cheese, so Ireland can benefit from some of this also.
As recently as this morning, the World Economic Forum put out some information. The Minister referenced Sir David Attenborough. His message this morning was quite simple. It was to say "No" to waste. We must not waste plastic, food or power but, ultimately for us all, especially those of us in north-western Europe, we must live within our means.